Hello!I thought you might be interested in some of the fascinating history behind the Itabira emerald mines, specifically Belmont, where I've spent some of my time while here in Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Around 1938, Mauro Ribeiro, a local farmer in Itabira, began trucking diesel fuel from Belo Horizonte to the area for the iron ore mine. By 1948 he had a fleet of trucks and was selling iron ore to a huge mining concern. The story goes that the company bullied him into selling the mine on his property to them by canceling all purchases. They built a railway to the area and the township flourished.
Truck and crew members in Ribeiro's operation
Wall of historical photos of the Itabira township
Mauro expanded his farm and it became the transfer point for the trains coming in and out. He excavated an area on his property to build a lake and one day a train driver waiting at the switch point paused to have a drink of water. The guy was familiar with gemstones and when he spotted emerald in the lake he told Mauro what it was and said he would have it checked out by a specialist and let him know if his hunch was correct--and it was.
Mauro applied for the mineral rights on his farm which was a slow process and it wasn’t long before he had an invasion of garimpeiros (prospectors or miners) on his property. They were so many and such a tough bunch that he could do nothing about it even though he was given the mineral rights. So he decided to let them continue in that particular area until it was exhausted if they agreed not to go anywhere else on the property.
The following year there were big floods and the mines were under water. The garimpeiros left and Mauro went to work building a fence. He then created a militia made up of family and other farmers in the area to protect themselves from invasion. His son, Paulo Ribeiro, became famous worldwide as a rough emerald supplier expanding into other areas.
At Belmont, trees on the property are restored or replanted; water used is reclaimed and recycled; even earth extracted from the mines gets washed and recycled.
Mauro’s grandson Marcelo went to the University of Belo Horizonte and became a mining engineer. He has since built Belmont, the most modern and efficient emerald mine in the world today. It is a perfect example of proper environmental and safety practices--the best I have seen in a country where the economy is still growing rapidly.
The road to Belmont emerald mine
Sophisticated mining operations
Off to an aquamarine mine in a couple of days--looking for unheated aqua. More on that in the next post!